Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

12375984_10156256708205411_8024732479177278043_n
My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

Paris–Brest
Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

IMG_7352
Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

284577_10152363888005411_1860614698_n
Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

Yule log cake on a Christmas table
Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

15542326_10157778275935411_7821742295581074235_n
Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

“A Table!” Lessons in Expat Cooking: Panettone

Love it or leave it but Panettone season is upon us again! Pana-what-y? Panettone (pan-eh-tone-eh). If you have to ask what this is then you must not live anywhere near an Italian market or somewhere like Switzerland where Italians make up a good chunk of the population. Something magical seemed to happen on the first of November in every single grocery store across Switzerland (and no, I’m not talking about discounted Halloween candy). Panettone popped up everywhere!! Just like cheese did a few weeks prior, panettone has taken over the supermarkets with bright boxes, colourful containers and more varieties than you knew were even possible!

img_6007
My homemade chocolate panettone!

So, what is panettone? Panettone is a sweet leavened bread with flavourings added. The traditional mix includes dried fruits but over the years versions such as hazelnut chocolate (think Nutella), grappa and lemon have appeared to gain in popularity. Panettone is similar to a brioche and is often served with tea or coffee as an afternoon snack.

IMG_3534
Endless selection
IMG_3536
Gluten-free versions

What to do if your local store isn’t chock full of panettone and you want to try it? You could always make it yourself! YES, panettone is a somewhat time consuming recipe but it is not difficult. You basically work with the dough or 10 minutes or so then leave it for a couple hours and repeat. I know someone that left their dough accidentally for 5 hours and it still turned out fine. It is a forgiving recipe so even newcomers can handle it.

The same basic recipe can be used for a chocolate panettone or a fruity one, just choose your ‘extra’ ingredients based on your taste. You can always mix and match. I’m a big chocolate and orange fan so candied orange with chocolate chips would be awesome! My husband and I like a bit of Grand Marnier splashed in the dough but we avoid that with the kids. Just have fun with it!

IMG_3542
With Grappa in the mix!

Panettone:
*NOTE: a panettone tin would be perfect for this but if you have another deep (20cm/7inch) dish, feel free to use that. Some bake shops and grocery stores sell disposible panettone dishes that work very well! I’ve heard of people in North America using old large metal coffee tins. Alternatively, I have heard of panettone being made in metal IKEA utensil holders (the silver one with holes) after being lined with aluminium foil and parchment. Deep is what you are after so get creative!

img_5996
My panettone tin
  • 60ml/4tbs warm milk (soy milk may be used if you are vegan but beware, the final texture may not be the same)
  • 14g/0.5oz dry fast-action yeast
  • 100g/ 1/2 cup of caster sugar
  • 500g/2 cups of strong white flour
  • 250g/1 cup butter or butter substitute
  • 5 eggs (or flax egg equivalent), lightly beaten
  • 1oml/2tsp vanilla extract
  • grated zest of 1 orange (you can omit this but I feel it rounds out the flavour)
  • pinch of salt

Extra items:
For a traditional fruit panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of your favourite dried fruits (i.e. raisins, cranberries, cherries candied orange and lemon, etc) You can chose just one fruit or several types to make a mixture

For a chocolate panettone

  • 250g/1 cup of dark chocolate chips, chunks or a broken chocolate bar (reserve some for sprinkling on top)

Finish for both versions:

  • 1 egg white, beaten (vegan – mix small amount of soy milk with sunflower oil)
  • 8-10 rough crushed sugar cubes or pre-made sugar crystals
  • optional – you can add slivered or whole almonds to the topping mix if you like

Directions:

  1. Place your warm milk, 1tbs/15ml of sugar and yeast together in a bowl and leave to sit for a few minutes. In the meantime, grease your panettone (or other) tin with butter or margarine. Using a different bowl, add the remainder of the sugar to the butter and vanilla extract. Mix together until pale and creamy.
  2. Gently add the orange zest and mix. Now add one egg at a time, making sure each egg is well incorporated before adding the next.
  3. Place all the flour in a large bowl with a pinch of salt. Make a small hole or well in the middle and first pour the yeast mixture into the well, followed by the butter and egg mixture. Begin to stir and bring together, gently mixing all the wet and dry ingredients together. Once the ingredients seem well blended, knead the dough in the bowl with your hands for about 5 minutes. This will be a VERY sticky dough at this stage so don’t panic if yours is sticking to you!
  4. Take the sticky dough and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Here, you will knead again for another 5-10 minutes until you have a very stretchy and soft dough. If your dough is sticking to your hands and the surface, you may use small sprinkles of flour to help with this process. After 5-10 minutes, shape into a ball and place into a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for 2 hours to rise. Please note: your dough will double in size so make sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate this!
  5. After 2 hours, place the dough on a lightly floured surface again and knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding either your fruit mixture or chocolate mixture. If you are using chocolate, be careful not to knead too much and melt the chocolate into the dough. I would knead the dough for 4 minutes then add the chocolate at the last minute. Shape into a ball and place into your greased tin. Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and leave for another hour to rise.
  6. Heat over to 180C/360F. At this point, brush the egg wash or substitute over the top of the dough and add the sugar cube pieces. Place in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes (some ovens may take longer!). Test with a skewer before removing from oven. IF your panettone starts to brown too much on the top, gently cover with a foil tent to protect from the heat.
  7. Remove from oven and let sit for at least 30 minutes before attempting to turn out.
img_5999
Sticky dough
img_6002
My dough rising in front of the fireplace
img_6003
Final step! It gets exciting now and the smell is addictive throughout the house!

 

Final tips:
If you find the egg and butter mixture starting to curdle, add small (like a teaspoon at a time) amounts of flour to smooth it out.
Also, you can place parchment paper inside your tin before adding the dough to help remove the cooked panettone at the end.

img_6005
And she’s done!!! Yum!

Now, sit back and enjoy warm with a  fresh cup of tea or coffee!! Did someone say warm sugary bread? YUM!